By Richard Akinnola
It was a Syndicate at Kirikiri prisons involving the IPOs, prison officials and the suspect and/or his relations. Then in 1996, with the sum of N150,000 (which was big money then), an awaiting trial person could be swapped with persons standing trial for armed robbery or already condemned.
Sometimes, the swapping was done inside the black Maria from court to prison. The prison officials would profile someone who looked disheveled along the way, pretend to be arresting him for jail break or one excuse, push him into the black Maria. After some time, the vehicle would stop again and the main culprit would be made to alight and disappear, while the swapped innocent person would be made to bear the name of the escaped criminal.
The other modus is to profile some awaiting trial persons and get someone who had been in prison for about three or four years, without his relations coming to visit him, thinking he had died, and then swap him with an armed robbery suspect. He assumed the identity of the robbery suspect. The robbery or murder suspect was then transferred to the cell of that other inmate, his bail arranged in court and he gets freed, while the other innocent person gets tried and convicted.
That’s the reason we used to see those days when some accused persons were charged to court on some capital offences, meeting their co-defendants in the dock for the first time.
There was a particular condemned robber in Kirikiri prison who had partly succeeded in the racket. He was involved in a robbery incident in Lagos in which two persons were killed. The convict, in a chat with me inside Kirikiri prison, said he had made a part-payment which only enabled his execution to be deferred.(When it was his turn to be included in the execution batch, his name would not feature) but his comrades-at-arms would be executed.
His relations had not perfected the deal, hence he was still being held. He revealed that his mother had to sell her property to raise the money already paid to the warders and the IPO who assured him that after paying the full amount, the swapping would be completed.
Another innocent victim of the racket who l interviewed then, Israel Udo Ekpo, was condemned to death for alleged armed robbery on January 21, 1982 but was fortunate to be discharged and acquitted by the court of Appeal in 1988.
Ekpo told me he was framed up for armed robbery.
According to him:”When l was charged to Ikeja High court 10, l was framed up with three unknown persons, whereas l was the only accused person when the trial started. This was on March 15, 1980. The charge read that the four of us conspired to rob”.
Understandably, the prison and police authorities dismissed this phenomenon of prisoner swapping. But this was real. That was almost 25 years ago. l dont think such a thing can happen in present day Nigeria.